The inauguration of Lambeth’s first-ever Poet Laureate took place at the London Literature Festival at the Southbank Centre on Thursday 27 October.
Lambeth’s Poet Laureate will write, perform and create throughout the year, and work in partnership with the council to build creative networks and shape the role for annual Laureates to come.
Benna led poets in performances touching on identity, community and the pressing issue of climate change, and made an impassioned speech about what the Laureate role can achieve.
In Lambeth since birth, Abstract Benna has been in love with storytelling ever since he could talk: “My storytelling-through-verse is fuelled by exploration of what it means to be a flawed human and how we can grow together, pushing forward the cultures that unite us.”
Benna’s talent is nurtured by a local culture of storytelling, rap and the lyricism of his peers. In spring he launched a film, Out of Darkness. He represented the Borough as a champion of the ELEVATE programme, welcoming the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (now Cornwall) on a visit to Lambeth.
“I’m ecstatic to be Lambeth’s first Poet Laureate. With the incredible cultural history and the growing creative and digital industry in the borough it feels inevitable that a Poet Laureate speaking for all of this should exist. I aim to use the year to work across disciplines, to collaborate, and to create a platform for Lambeth writers and artists.”
Word from the Cabinet
Councillor Donatus Anyanwu, Lambeth Council Cabinet Member for stronger communities, spoke at the inauguration to welcome the creation of a Lambeth Laureate:
“From William Blake to Linton Kwesi Johnson to Dave, Lambeth has a rich history of wordsmiths. With the gift of Abstract Benna’s talents, we want to use his year as Poet Laureate to support the art form as fully as possible and do things together that engineer a difference.
“We want our first Poet Laureate to inspire people to participate in creativity, to make visible the opportunities in our borough and to contribute to the elevation of our young residents.
“Lambeth’s Laureate will stand by their own values and decide what they want to write. In Abstract Benna we have a poet who will help us define and demonstrate the freedom of the role.”
London Literature Festival
Ted Hodgkinson, Head of Literature & Spoken Word at the Southbank Centre said: “We are delighted to host the launch of a Poet Laureate for Lambeth as part of the Southbank Centre’s London Literature Festival. Abstract Benna has been part of our New Poets Collective and we’re tremendously excited to see what he goes on to do in the role.”
All photographs by Gorm Ashurst